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I wrote this awhile back and thought I would share, as I didn’t get a chance to post it back then. I hope all the Carrie fans out there enjoy! For anyone who hasn’t heard her music before, here’s a little Carrie 101…

When 2005 began, Carrie Underwood was an unknown who decided to take time off from school to audition for American Idol. Cut to the end of the year and she was a Country Music superstar and a darling of the Grand Ole Opry. Her debut, Some Hearts, was released in November of that year and quickly began making its mark on the Country charts. Even today, two years and another CD later, it sits in the top 20. The first single, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, helped get the CD off to a strong start. The song reached #1 on the charts and showed how powerful Underwood’s vocals are. The third single, however, was a major turning point for a CD that had started to lose its legs.  “Before He Cheats” was a gutsy song for an artist who had been known for sweet, inspirational songs about God and family.

The song was a sassy tale of a girl who decides to teach her cheating boyfriend a lesson by smashing up his truck. While somewhat controversial, the song exploded, becoming one of her best known hits, and Underwood’s growling vocals proved she is a versatile singer who can handle almost anything. It even crossed over to the pop charts.  Other stand outs on her debut include “We’re Young and Beautiful” and “The Night Before (Life Goes On)”. The former is a sassy and energetic track about living it up because “a time will come when we’re not so young and beautiful.” The latter is a slow, reflective song about growing up and leaving home. The characters in the song are trying to hold on to that last night before the girl leaves for college, and lamenting the fact it can’t last.

Though Some Hearts is a good disc that clearly proves Carrie deserved that American Idol win, it is not her best. That title would have to go to her follow-up, Carnival Ride.  Named in honor of the crazy journey she’s taken since winning Idol, it is a strong collection that raises the bar. Like her debut, the CD has had instant success. Her single, “So Small”, is near the top of the Country Singles Chart. The CD itself debuted at #1 on both the Billboard 200 and the Country Charts after selling over 500,000 copies its first week.

Listening to both CDs back-to-back is surprising. While it is not a dramatic departure from her first, Carnival Ride still stands apart, as there are more up-tempo tracks. The CD opens with the rocking song “Flat on the Floor”. Underwood’s vocals in the track and spirited and sassy, somewhat reminiscent of 70s rock and she delivers the lyrics with a confidence that is not quite reached on Some Hearts. “All American Girl,” the second track, is another good one. It’s tempo reminds me of her debut’s title track, but with more of a country sound. The vocals are strong, although I tend to think she goes a bit overboard near the end. Less is more, girl. Another favorite would be “Last Name”. Dubbed the “Before He Cheats” of Carnival Ride by many of her fans, it was co-written by Carrie. The song has a distinct country sound and Carrie nails it vocally. This tale of a wild night in Vegas that leads to a marriage she doesn’t remember is sure to surprise some fans. While it completely contradicts the image that Underwood has cultivated, I still buy it. “Crazy Dreams”, the sixth track, is another good one. The lyrics are a bit generic (“hello, you long shots. You dark horse runners”), but Underwood delivers them well enough to make them work. The instrumentation of this one reminds me of any of Keith Urban’s up-tempo songs. The All American Girl video was one of my favorites from the CD and has some fan inside jokes thrown in:

The best ballad on the disc by far is “Just a Dream”.  The song tells the story of a young girl who suddenly finds herself at a funeral instead of a wedding when her soldier husband-to-be is killed. When she sings the line “I can’t even breathe”, you feel all the desperation and shock one would feel if they found themselves in that situation.

It’s not all perfection on Carnival Ride. Personally, I am not loving the new single “So Small”. It’s not that I think it’s a bad song, it’s just not doing anything to separate itself from the type of inspirational songs filled with glory notes that Martina McBride has favored in recent years. I can see why she would want to release it, as she co-wrote it, but I think something else would have worked better as a single. I also find myself having a hard time getting through the tracks “You Won’t Find This” and “I Know You Won’t”. The latter in particular inspires a headache each time I’ve heard it, as the glory notes take over. Again, less is more!

Overall, Carrie has so far produced two great CDs and is sure to be doing so for many years to come. If Carnival Ride is any indication, the quality of her releases will only get better.

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